28th Oct 2014

A Word to Djembe Students

Something I'd like to point out about studying djembe and other folkloric traditions as someone who is outside of the culture is that there are many different ways to interpret every single little piece of music.

Every one of these rhythms started out with a specific ethnic group, in a specific cultural context whether it be for rights of passage or celebration or harvesting/agricultural purposes, whatever the case may be, each one of these rhythms started out in one place and then spread and some of them now have regional variations all over Guinea, all over Mali, over all parts of West Africa.

The more popular the rhythm, the more it has been taken on by various different ethnic groups. In a lot of cases, the rhythms themselves didn't start as djembe rhythms, they didn't start on djembe and dunun with the Malinke people, they were other ethnic groups and other instruments but they were adapted for djembe and dunun by the dance companies, often called ballets.

In this ballet style of playing, the original drums, whatever drums those may be, would be interpreted and new dunun and djembe parts would be invented to closely match the original parts on the original instruments.

As a result of that, there are many ways to interpret these rhythms. What I will show you in my videos is my favorite ways that my teachers have shown me how to play on my djembe. It is by no means the only way to play and I am not presenting this as the right/only way. What I'm presenting is that this is the way my teachers have shown me and I do my best to pass it on to you and I hope that you enjoy it. But I don't represent myself as a master of African Culture, I am just a student who loves this music and loves this tradition and I want to preserve it as well as I can. That means learning it as well as I can and passing it on.

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do and that you put in the effort to learn how to play this instrument and learn how to play these rhythms. Ultimately "community" is what I think this music is all about. It brings people together and it allows us the opportunity to cooperate and listen and connect with one another in a very important way.

Noah Mosgofian is a contributing author to the X8 Drums blog and an instructor in the X8 gallery of online lessons.